Turning things upside down

Photograph by Paul Eekhoff. Design by Herrainco for Methanex Corp.
Photograph by Paul Eekhoff. Design by Herrainco for Methanex Corp.

I’ve had a few paradigm shifts happen of late. Clients have called me, just for my opinion. Not about design. About stuff — their businesses, their thinking, their strategy.

This is what I like about my profession and what I continue to beat the drum about regarding design. It’s a thinking profession, not an art profession. True, designers make beautiful things, but that’s largely the given part of it. Anyone with a lick of talent can make something pretty, but not everyone can make something meaningful. To make something meaningful, you have to know things about the thing you want to make meaningful. But most importantly, you need to know what is meaningful to the people you’re talking to.

That nexus of meaning is where design thinking lives. And again, it’s not about the “design” thinking you think it is. If you are 99% of the world, you think design thinking is about choosing a typeface, images, colour and/or making a sketch of a chair or an aerodynamic bicycle to make a cool looking thing, preferably as “of the moment” as possible. Wrong.

Design thinking is turning problems upside down. It’s about asking why, why and WHY. Design thinking is something anyone who cares to do it can use. Business, students, scientists, doctors, receptionists….You can make any wicked problem (yes, that is a link to the Harvard Business Review, because design thinking is a strategic business tool) more surmountable by challenging assumptions. As human beings, we’re comfortable with assumptions. They’re quick, supported by the vast majority and make us feel secure. But they’re generally a straight path to the banal and predictable, which means status quo. You stay stuck. You don’t grow. You don’t get any better than “okay”.

You don’t need to be a daredevil of a risk taker to do this. Back up, back WAY up. Look at the problem from far away. Take someone with you. What do they see? Take a picture. Make it black and white. Make it colour. Cut it into pieces and put it together another way. This is what I love to do. It’s what makes us a good consultancy. You can do it, too, but you need to start challenging yourself to turn things upside down.

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